The Greater Miracle

Adoration of the Magi by Giotto di Bondone, c.1306

Feast of Epiphany, January 6

Today is the Feast of the Epiphany remembering the story of the Magi visiting the Christ child shortly after his birth. It marks the official end of the “Christmas” season in many church traditions (the 12th Day of Christmas). As expected, the gold, frankincense and myrrh get our attention in this story–and the Star. Planetariums around the country have been doing good business by explaining how the Star might really have happened at around the time of Christ’s birth.

I grew up in a religious tradition high on “signs and wonders.” The attitude was characterized less by an openness to the miraculous than by the expectation that it should be a regular feature of life. If you could not regularly testify to extraordinary things in your life then you were one of those members set apart by the quiet, sympathetic shaking of elders’ heads.  Your life did not have the evidence of Divine sizzle. You were evidently not entirely right with God.

The problem with the focus on the spectacular is that it drives one to disregard the mundane, to develop a distorted view of reality that defines a miracle within narrow confines answering to our demanding expectations. We thereby forget that the mundane, the ordinary, is a wonderfully miraculous place. We miss the Messianic principle entirely.

My upbringing damned me to many years of requiring a sign from God to settle the issue of Divine existence. Where, I begged, was my Star?

How God must have laughed.

It was a while before I saw it. But I finally did. Now, I see my Star every time I look up. It’s one of the millions that fleck the heavens every night. In fact, I can pick a different one each time if I want to. It took a long time to embrace the idea that ordinary reality IS the mark of the Divine. Only my internally composed alternate reality is devoid of Divinity, of the miraculous, of the true wonder of the Magi. Like Milton’s Satan in Hell, only my defiant mini-verse has a starless sky.

The Epiphany is less about the Star and the treasures given to the Child. It’s about answering the question: what do we do with this reality-crashing being? Herod recognized it right away, understood the full implications of the Birth. He knew better than anyone else that even the alleged legendary birth of a prophesied child meant the end of his carefully constructed and protected world. He responded n the same way most of the rest of us do in the same circumstances—he did everything he could to eliminate the threat.

Like Herod, we spend a lot of time and energy protecting our preferred mini-verses. Most of our anxieties come from threats to it. And the threats are very real—grave illnesses, deaths, births, marriages, divorces, financial issues, career changes, relational shifts as people step in and out of our dance line.

The Greater Miracle is the Epiphany that even when my own mini-verse doesn’t seem to be faring so well, the larger, ordinary reality has not ceased to be full of wonder, magic and miracle. Ordinary reality is saturated with intentional Mind and Presence. We don’t know how it all works, but it’s actually better to acknowledge our limitations—not in passive resignation, but in a willingness to be a creative and active part of the Mystery.

And naturally, these words are far easier to write than to enact, as C.S. Lewis learned when friends needled him with quotes from The Problem of Pain. But the miracle of Theophany is to be found in the Ordinary … if we can only see it there.